Wondering What Plants to Plant? Choose Natives!
When choosing plants to grow in your garden, why not consider using local native plants?
When we use the term 'local native plant' we mean the plants which grow naturally in the area around where you live that haven't been introduced by humans. The term does not include exotic plants that have escaped into the wild, these are generally called naturalized plants or environmental weeds if they have a detrimental impact on native flora or fauna.
Local native plants may be endemic to your area (occurring only there) or have a more widespread distribution (occurring across different regions, sometimes even continents).
There are many advantages that come with growing local native plants, this article explains a few of them.
Native plants attract native animals
By planting native plants in the suburbs you can help to create wildlife corridors that link the various patches of remaining natural land (remnant vegetation) in your local area. This allows wildlife to move and interbreed between previously fragmented populations which may have otherwise been prone to inbreeding stress.
The trick for attracting a diverse range of native animal species is to provide an adequate range of habitats, food sources and niches for the animals to fill.
Mix trees, shrubs, vines and groundcovers together to create habitats at different levels. Select some plants with nectar-rich flowers, some that produce fruits and others that produce nuts and seeds so that there is a variety of food available for native animals to feed on.
Choose dense shrubs to provide habitat and nesting site for small birds, shrubs that have prickles and thorns are even better at deterring predators. Create a water feature or pond with native marsh plants for frog habitat. Leave old rotten logs, twigs and leaf litter around the garden to provide habitat for small lizards and terrestrial insects. Research and plant the host plants of native butterflies to encourage them to lay their eggs in your garden.
Some exotic garden plant escapees are closely related to native species and as a result native insects may pick up the same chemical signals from both plants that tell them that the plant is a suitable food plant. Occasionally the exotic plant will be toxic and its sudden and rapid spread through the ecosystem doesn't allow the required time for the insect to adapt to either gain resistance to the toxin or gain the ability to recognize and avoid the toxic species. It's best to research beforehand to avoid planting such plants.
Horticultural design traditionally has favored repetition to create a harmonious effect. There is no greater example than large expanses of open lawns or long stands of the exact same species of tree. While these plantings may benefit a few species of animal the vast majority will have little use of the particular plants chosen and would instead benefit from a diverse, mixed planting which has food available for a diverse range of species all year round. By planting a wide assortment of local native plants you are sure to benefit many species of native animal as they have adapted over thousands of years to make use of the plants native to the local area.
The importance of diversity can not be over-stated. Many of the fruits and seeds will be eaten immediately as they are produced, but certain types will remain seemingly untouched until Winter. It's then when all the more favored sources of food have been depleted that these less-tasty sources of food may just prevent a hungry critter from starving. If these lesser-liked food plants were not also included in the garden, there would be nothing left come Winter.
By attracting native animals and insects you'll achieve an additional layer of interest to your garden for you to enjoy. You're garden will be teaming with life and vitality.
Native plants grow better in local conditions
Plants that are native to your local area have been growing in similar conditions to where you live for thousands of year and as a result they're adapted to the weather and soil conditions found where you live. This allows them to grow well with what they already have and means that they'll require less additional fertilizer and water and suffer from fewer major pests.
Designing with local native plants
Native plants can be used successfully in a diverse range of applications. More often than not there is a local native plant that will fit your idea of what you want to achieve in each part of your garden.
Native plants are low maintenance, often very beautiful in their own right and help give your garden a local character. They can often be brought cheaply as tubestock from native plant nurseries, which makes planting out a large area very cost effective.
Various ways to use native plants:
Cottage: To achieve a cottage garden look with natives select a variety of plants with different flower and leaf color, shape and texture and plant them densely to provide interest all year round.
Courtyard: Native plants that have a compact habit are great for courtyards. Choose plants with lots of flowers to attract butterflies. You could even install a small pond or waterfeature and fill it will native marsh plants to attract frogs.
Formal: Find out if any of the plants native to your local area can be hedged, successful trimmed into low borders, or pruned into standards to provide an interesting new take on an old style.
Natural: Take a walk down by your local creek or anywhere else that catches your interest with a field guide listing the plants native to your local area. Take note of what and where the plants are in relation to one another and try to replicate this natural complexity in your own garden.
Many native plants are becoming rare in the wild due to loss of habitat. By planting such plants in your garden you can do your bit to keep these unique species present on planet earth for future generations to come.